Monday, 19 September 2016

Twinkl Review - English Resources

I was recently contacted by the people at Twinkl to review some of their Australian resources. They kindly offered me a free subscription so I can look at all of their resources, and offer my own opinions about them.

I will start off by saying that I don't love worksheets. I do use them, but not everyday, and I prefer hands-on activities. So, I was very glad when I started looking through Twinkl's resources and saw lots of resources that are not just 'busy work' worksheets. They have displays, which are colourful and eye catching, packs of cut-and-paste resources for sequencing and sorting, and games/activities to print and continue to reuse.
The resources I'm going to share are some of their English resources designed for grades 3 and 4.

Home Reading

If you're looking for a new Reading Log, this one looks great! I particularly liked the column where students can list their emotions about their reading - this helps with reflecting on their reading, and can help a teacher to understand how reading homework is going at home.

Narrative Writing

Two resources caught my eye for Narrative. The Narrative Writing Prompt Flashcards and the Narrative Writing Student Checklist

I loved that the prompt flashcards have photos on the cards along with the text to give more inspiration and support for coming up with interesting narratives. I can definitely see my students using these appealing cards to help with their writing ideas.

I'm always looking for ways for students to be self-reflective and to review their own writing before showing it to me, and using this checklist would support that. I like that I could hand them out before, during or after my students' complete their narrative writing and they could be using them to make sure their narrative writing is high quality. It prompts them to think about the important elements of narrative writing. I did think it was interesting that one item on the list is "My story has a believable but interesting problem". I'm not worried about believable problems, I'm more interested in their creativity and how they solve the problem in the story.

Procedural Writing

I was disappointed that there weren't any grade 3/4 procedural writing resources because that's our next writing focus. The procedural writing resources that were available would be more suited to the younger grades. The only resource that will probably be useful is the Features of Instructions and Procedures Poster, but only as a reference.

Speaking and Listening

My school has been focusing on oral language and the Speaking and Listening curriculum for the last 6 months, so I was curious to see what resources were available on Twinkl for these areas.

They have created an easy to use Speaking and Listening Observational Rubric for different year levels, and I printed the grade 3 rubric to look at. I like that it refers to the Content Descriptions for the Australian Curriculum, however I'm in Victoria and we're using the new Victorian Curriculum so the codes are slightly different. But, as a simple checklist to assess how students are going with this curriculum area it would be very useful.

The Oral Presentation Rubric for Year 3 would have been so useful for me last term!! Our students had to plan and present a presentation about their favourite book, and if I'd had his rubric it would have made assessing so easy. I like that it lists different elements to assess, as well as a star grading scale, and it has the Australian Curriculum links on the bottom.

Literacy Group Activity

The last resource is one that I'll include in my reading groups next term. We have been looking at ways to improve students' vocabulary, and I think the Word Challenge Worksheet would be great for that. I'm going to print and laminate them, so students can complete the task (define the word, identify synonyms, and put the word in a sentence) and then rub it off to be reused.


Overall, I find Twinkl's website to be tricky to navigate, and not all of their categories have resources in them for the Australian Curriculum section which can be frustrating. Search terms can often bring up a huge number of resources which can be hard to filter down. But, the quality of the resources is high, they sheets are content-focused and clean-looking so that students are concentrating on the learning and not on overly distracting flourishes on the page.

Next month I'll review some maths resources by Twinkl.
Thanks again to Twinkl for this opportunity.

Edible science and maths activities - Australian Teachers Blog

I've just blogged over at the Australian Teachers Collaborative Blog about science and maths activities that you can eat! Go and check it out!

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Reading Groups and Maths Groups set-up

I'm always excited to share things that are happening in my classroom. That's one reason I love Instagram. I recently shared the PowerPoint slide that I use for showing students their Reading and Maths groups, so I thought I'd share a bit more about how I've set them up.

Reading and Maths Groups

Right at the beginning of this year I wrote a blog post over on the Australian Teachers Collaborative Blog about how I planned to run my Reading Groups. I was inspired by lots of blogs, and other teachers, and I had ideas that I was excited about. Unfortunately, it just didn't work out the way I'd planned. And that's ok! So much about teaching is trying new things, reflecting on them, and making changes. That is exactly what I did.
Reading Groups Plan 

I started the year trying to give my students more choice, found that it didn't suit my students in the way I had envisioned it, so I dropped Reading Groups altogether. During term 2 I did whole group reading activities, not a lot of differentiating, and mainly comprehension work based on texts about our Inquiry topic. This didn't work either, and I found that my student achievement data didn't change the way it could/should. So...

I went 'back to basics'. In Australia, about 10 years ago, there was a huge push towards the 'Early Years Literacy Block'. It was highly structured, based on a group system for reading, and writing would always follow straight after, for a total literacy block of 120min. I had run my literacy block this way in the past, but didn't do it this year. During the winter holidays I re-read the training material for this framework, and decided I'd try it again. And so far, I love it!!!
Reading Groups planner 

A week in reading for me now includes:
  • 15-20min every day of Independent Reading. Students self-select books from a huge range that I've collected over the years and store in The Book Corner. They have to have 4 'levelled texts', and 3 of something else (magazines, non-fiction books, early readers, picture books, chapter books, etc) which they store in the rainbow drawers next to the bookshelf.
  • 2 lessons a week of comprehension-based, whole group tasks, focused on big ideas like inferring, visualisation and understanding character/setting. 
  • 1 lesson that starts with Independent Reading but is then taken up with spelling pre- and post-testing and setting weekly homework.
  • 2 Reading Groups lessons. 

The Book Corner
The Book Corner

I have four reading groups, based on ability, and each day they complete 2 activities, so that after the two lessons they've completed all four activities. The activities are: oral language, word work, handwriting, and reciprocal reading. My students have started remembering what their pair of activities will be for each day, it's making transitions easier, it's making my individual assessment easier, and having familiar activities means students know the expectations.

Reading Group activities
Handwriting, Pop for Blends, Oral Language Storycards, Reciprocal reading

While students are working on their activities I pull students from any group who have the same learning goal for reading (eg. reading with expression, sounding out words, using punctuation correctly, etc.).
Student goals
This is how I display my students' individual learning goals.

For Maths Groups I have an almost identical set-up.

Maths Group planner

I have four maths groups, based on ability, and these are groups that were organised based on an addition pre-test. The four activities they do are: iPods (maths app), a maths game, task cards and teacher group. The only difference between the Reading Groups and Maths Groups is that I have a 'built in' teacher group in maths, whereas I don't have one in Reading. This is because my maths groups are based on the skill they're up to which is the focus for the teacher groups, whereas in reading they are grouped by reading level not skill.

Preparing some of the Maths Groups activities

My school requires teachers to teach 2 days of Number/Place Value content every week (this is my Maths Group time), and 2-3 days of a maths topic from another area of the curriculum. For example, last week we learned about symmetry on the other days, next week we're learning about transformations.

The set-up for my resources and materials is simple, too. I bought tubs from Kmart (the coloured ones are from the kitchen section, and the grey ones are from the storage section). Maths tasks are in blue tubs, and reading are in red(ish) tubs. I haven't made the labels for the maths tubs yet, but the reading tubs have a label bulldog-clipped to them that matches the name of the activity on the planning table above. My students know where to find the tubs, where and how to put them back, and to keep our materials neat and tidy.

Reading and Maths Groups organisation 

I like the regularity and familiarity my students now have with these group set-ups. I like that it is easy to plan for. I like that they are practising core skills quickly and regularly, which is supporting their skills in other areas. For my class this really works!

I'd love to know how you run groups in your room. It constantly amazes me how many incredible ideas teachers come up with for running groups. We are a creative bunch!!

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Product Review: RIC Publications Geography (level 3/4)

I have been very lucky to use the RIC Australian Curriculum Geography book for Year 3 during our geography Inquiry this year. I wanted to share some thoughts and activity ideas with you.

At my school I work with the 3/4 team (but I teach a grade 2/3 composite class). This meant that when it came time to plan and teach our Geography Inquiry we had to make sure we covered all areas of the new curriculum. My school is transitioning into using the new Victorian Curriculum, so planning for geography was entirely new. Thankfully we had access to RIC Publications' excellent geography resource. It has been so handy! The book is aligned to the Australian Curriculum, but it also works perfectly with the Victorian Curriculum.
Colour coding climates of the world
After pulling apart the curriculum requirements, we started looking through this resource. Every area is covered. There are some parts that we didn't use, and a few areas where RIC gives you some choices. As a school, we try to avoid worksheets, but the pages in the Geography book were well created, to the point, and included rich learning.
Colour coding Australian climates
I didn't particularly like the quiz questions at the end of the book, so I didn't use them. That's totally personal choice - you may love having access to them.

Some activities we completed as suggested, others we used parts of and put our own spin on them. For example, the photos below show how I took one of the 'reading' pages, and photocopied sections onto blank paper. Students then had to read the passage, highlight key words, and write a summary of it. We did this for natural features and for Pacific Island Countries.

I also reached out to the amazing Teachers of Instagram community to help with a 'compare and contrast' activity about people living in different parts of Australia.

This resource was a fantastic supplement to our planning for Inquiry. It gave my team direction in a new curriculum area, had great blackline masters to copy, and had a range of activities. Each section has some teacher information to help with the planning.

A handy strategy we used when planning with this resource was to be discriminating when we first looked through it and photocopy the pages we thought were going to have the most effect as teaching tools; we put these photocopies in a display folder so we had them on hand and ready to go throughout the unit. It made it quick and easy, and simplified needing to flick through the book every week.

To get a copy of this excellent resource for yourself check out RIC Publications' website. They also have a View Book option to see the pages inside before you purchase it.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Friday, 8 April 2016

Reflecting ready for term 2

Today is the last week day of my school holidays. I'm taking today to relax, watch some tv and collect my thoughts before term 2 starts. I've also been reflecting on the things I've learned about my students in term 1 that will influence how I tackle term 2. My students:
- Love a challenge, and rise to it with persistence and determination
- Are very competitive, and love getting outside to play a competitive sport, or do a competitive warm-up before a lesson
- Are still only 7, 8 and 9 years old so they love novelty, and colour, and fun, and silliness
- Love to share their knowledge and skills with their peers by helping others or showing what they can do
- Are very creative and love to construct and make things

So, what I will be doing for my students this term is:
- Giving them challenges to stretch their brains
- Using all of my early years knowledge to make our learning fun, exciting and a bit silly sometimes!
- Channelling their competitive side into great teamwork, collaborative activities and awesome poison ball games 
- Sharing their skills far and wide and with each other (one new activity we're having in term 2 is "Guest Reader", where students will be able to sign up to read a book to the class during our inside eating time, we started it last term and they adored it!!)
- Incorporating construction and craft into our curriculum wherever I can

I'm sure both of these lists will continue to grow as I learn more about my students and think of more ways to develop my teaching to suit their needs, but I really wanted to get this bit of reflection written down. I'm so excited to make this an awesome term!!

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Classroom reveal 2016

I'm so excited to share my new classroom! It has been a journey to set it up.
This year I moved from teaching Prep (aka Foundation, kindergarten, the first year at school) to teaching a grade 2/3 composite class. I'm so ready for this new challenge! As well as the grade change I moved buildings at my school. I'm now in a 60 year old building, with lots of quirks and issues and my new room is smaller than my old room.

The most exciting thing about the building I'm in is that it will be demolished at the end of the school year because we are getting a new school building!! So, I was given free reign over what I wanted to do to my room - and my first decision was to paint it!

It was a pale blue to begin with, and I had it painted white. I love how bright and light it looks!

I decided to stick with a pretty simple colour palette of blues, greens and beige/whites. 
I'm so glad I did, because I got the brightest primary coloured tables!! Super fun!

After I got my tables it was time for the fun bit of rearranging the furniture, setting up my book corner and organising my 'teacher desk' (or lack of teacher desk). Two years ago I got rid of my teacher desk, instead I use an IKEA trolley to store all of my stationery, I have a bench that I put my planner and computer on when they're not being used, and I use my small group table as my desk when my students aren't around.

Here's my teacher desk area:

Here's my book corner:

Here are my awesome storage tubs with labels on them:

This is the front of my room, where my students sit for whole group instruction (I love love love my IKEA teacher chair!!):

I've got my tables set up in groups of six students:

These are some of my display, ready to go! This is our Wondering Wall (during our Inquiries students pose 'I wonder...' questions which we endeavour to answer over the course of the Inquiry):

I hot glued thumb tacks to the back of glitter pegs to make displaying student work easy:

And, this is where I display our subject buddies (the person they pair up with for different activities in reading, writing and maths, and they are of mixed-ability) and where we'll display our goals for the week (that will be another blog post):

All of these photos were shared on Instagram over the last few weeks, so if you'd like to stay up to date with my classroom I'd love it if you'd follow me on Instagram @jemluck

Monday, 18 January 2016